Allen v. State

Decision Date02 September 2004
Docket NumberNo. 02268,02268
Citation857 A.2d 101,158 Md. App. 194
PartiesJeffrey E. ALLEN v. STATE of Maryland.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Stacy W. McCormack (Stephen E. Harris, Public Defender, on brief), for appellant.

Devy Patterson Russell (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Atty. Gen., on brief), for appellee.

Panel HOLLANDER, ADKINS, and BARBERA, JJ.

HOLLANDER, J.

A jury sitting in the Circuit Court for Charles County convicted appellant, Jeffrey E. Allen, of the first degree felony murder of John Butler. Allen was also found guilty of second degree murder (specific intent to kill); robbery with a deadly weapon; robbery; theft; and two counts of carrying a weapon openly with intent to injure.1 The court sentenced Allen to life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole, for the felony murder conviction, and concurrent sentences of thirty years for second degree murder, twenty years for robbery with a dangerous and deadly weapon, and three years for each count of openly carrying a weapon with intent to injure. The remaining convictions were merged.

On appeal, appellant poses four questions, which we have reordered and rephrased slightly:

I. Did the trial court err in denying appellant's motion to suppress?
II. Did the trial court err in its instructions to the jury with regard to aggravated robbery as a predicate for felony murder?
III. Was the evidence legally sufficient to sustain appellant's convictions for robbery with a dangerous and deadly weapon and first degree felony murder?
IV. Did the trial court err in imposing separate sentences (1) for both first degree felony murder and second degree specific-intent-to-kill murder of the same victim, and (2) for both felony murder and the underlying felony?

For the reasons that follow, we shall vacate the judgment of conviction for felony murder and remand for a new trial. We shall affirm the remaining convictions. In light of our ruling, we need not reach the claim of error as to sentencing.

I. Factual Summary

A. Suppression Hearing

Appellant moved to suppress several oral and written statements he made on October 24, 2001. In particular, he challenged statements to Officers Cecilia Johnston and Jonathan Burroughs at a store parking lot; to Officer Burroughs while in a police car; and to Sergeant Michael Almassy during two separate interviews at the sheriff's office. What follows is a summary of the evidence adduced at the suppression hearing held in March and April of 2002.

Sergeant Jeffrey Bryant of the Charles County Sheriff's Department was monitoring the radio at 9:42 a.m. on October 24, 2001, when a request was made for a patrol unit to respond to the Ironsides Store. According to Bryant, the caller "was reporting" that "[a]n individual had tried to assault the caller the night before. That he [i.e., the caller] had stabbed that individual, and stabbed that individual until he stopped moving." The caller also stated that he had run a car into a ditch. Sergeant Bryant dispatched several officers.

Sergeant Cecilia Johnston proceeded to the Ironsides Store in response to the call. On her way to the store, Johnston passed a white car that was in a ditch. Upon Johnston's arrival at the store, she was "flagged down" by appellant. She immediately noticed that appellant had no shirt on and his pants were "covered in blood."

Appellant approached the patrol car and Johnston asked him whether "he was injured." According to Johnston, this was the only question she posed to Allen at that time. Allen responded that he was unhurt and then "started talking," even though Johnston had not asked him anything. Johnston testified: "[Allen] said that he didn't know where he was. He didn't know who the person was. Didn't know where he was then. That he had stabbed a man ... and he was at — in a shack on top of a hill." Appellant told Johnston that "he wanted to leave" the shack, but "[t]he guy wouldn't take him home," so appellant "reached for the car keys and the man came at him, and [appellant] stabbed him." Appellant added that he "then got into the man's car, a little white car, and he got scared, and he left in the car." As appellant was looking for a phone, he "tried to turn around to come back to the store" and "hit a ditch." Johnston asked appellant where he had come from, and appellant stated that "there was a shack on a hill on a dirt road." Johnston spent about three to five minutes talking to Allen.

Johnston recalled that Officer Jonathan Burroughs and Sergeant Daniel L. Gimler soon arrived at the scene, and appellant volunteered to show them where the shack was located. Appellant was handcuffed just before he entered Officer Burroughs's car, and the three officers went with appellant to the scene of the stabbing. At the scene, appellant remained in the car while Sergeant Johnston stood outside the vehicle; the other officers went inside the victim's residence.

Officer Burroughs testified that, on the way to the Ironsides Store, he stopped to examine the wrecked vehicle that the caller had reported, and saw a blood soaked shirt inside. At the store parking lot, Officer Burroughs saw appellant standing near Sergeant Johnston's vehicle. Johnston informed Burroughs that appellant had been involved in a stabbing, but appellant did not know the location of the victim. At the store parking lot, Burroughs spoke with appellant for five to ten minutes.

According to Burroughs, Sergeant Gimler arrived shortly thereafter. While Johnston conferred with Sergeant Gimler, Burroughs "turned [his] attention" to Allen and asked appellant "what happened. If he knew the location of the victim." Appellant was a few feet away from Burroughs at the time. Burroughs testified:

He stated that he had stabbed the victim and had left the scene driving ... in a car that he had crashed....
I asked him just a little further to describe what had happened. He said that he had come home with the victim the previous night, gotten up in the morning and attempted to leave. He said at that point he was confronted by the victim, who had his hands up in a fighting stance, he put his hands up.
He said he didn't know if the victim had a weapon or not, and at that point observed a knife on the counter, I guess in the kitchen area, and picked it up and stabbed the victim a few times; took his car keys and fled the scene. And wrecked the vehicle on 425 while attempting to execute a U-turn.

Burroughs asked appellant "what led up to the stabbing" and "how many times he stabbed the victim, be specific regarding that." Appellant responded that "[h]e didn't know. He just kept stabbing him and stabbing him." Allen also indicated that the victim was located in "a shack on a hill." At that point, Burroughs handcuffed appellant and placed him in the back of Burroughs's vehicle. However, Burroughs explained to appellant "[t]hat he was not under arrest." Rather, "this was just being done for safety because we didn't have the full story." Burroughs also told appellant that he was handcuffing him "because of the exigent situation we were trying to find the victim." Appellant indicated that "he understood."

It took only three to five minutes to drive from the Ironsides Store to the victim's residence. During the drive, Burroughs conversed with appellant about landmarks in an attempt to find the victim's residence. Burroughs described appellant as "cooperative." According to Burroughs, upon seeing the victim's residence, appellant "excitedly stated that it was the house on the hill, that's it, up on the hill." Burroughs entered the house and found the decedent, John Butler. When Burroughs returned to the vehicle a few minutes later, appellant inquired about the victim's condition. Burroughs responded that "at that point we weren't sure what the situation was and he would be informed when we knew more."

At the request of Almassy and Detective Jay Budd, Burroughs transported appellant to Rose Hill Farm, a produce stand near La Plata, "so they could speak to him." Burroughs arrived about five to six minutes later and removed appellant's handcuffs. By then, Allen had been handcuffed for about fifteen to twenty minutes.

On cross-examination, Burroughs testified that he completed a police report that included the circumstances under which he spoke with appellant; he omitted his statement to appellant, in which he advised appellant that he was not under arrest. Burroughs also indicated that he did not notice any marks or bruises on appellant.

Detective Almassy recalled that he met the group at Rose Hill Farm at about 10:30 a.m. Almassy asked Officer Burroughs why appellant was handcuffed, and Officer Burroughs responded that he was handcuffed "for safety reasons." Almassy stated that, when he first saw appellant, he knew only minor details regarding the incident, as reported by appellant during his call, and thought that appellant might actually be the victim. Almassy had no information about any statements that appellant had made while at the Ironsides Store.

Almassy asked appellant if he would be willing to "discuss the incident." He also told appellant that he was "not under arrest"; that he was "free to leave"; and that he did not have to discuss the incident. According to Almassy, appellant "agreed to ride" to the sheriff's office with Almassy and Detective Budd "to discuss what happened." Appellant sat in the front passenger seat of Budd's car, without handcuffs, while Sergeant Almassy sat in the rear. Almassy maintained that he engaged only in "small talk" with appellant during the ride to the sheriff's office. However, because appellant had blood on his hands and face, on his upper body, and on his jeans, Almassy told appellant that he could not wash off any of the blood, because he wanted to take photographs to document appellant's condition.

At the sheriff's office, appellant was taken to an interview room. At 10:55 a.m., Sergeant Almassy entered the room and reiterated that app...

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